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Date of Birth: around 1930
Lily Hargraves Nungarrayi is a senior Warlpiri women born in the Tanami Desert around 1930. In the early 1950’s Nungarrayi moved to the settlement of Lajamanu, located at Hookers Creek, when the Warlpiri population at Yuendemu had outgrown that settlement’s ability to house all its occupants. She has continued to live at Lajamanu ever since.
Lily became a central figure in the painting movement that evolved at Lajamanu after 1985. Lily Nungarrayi has an outgoing personality, and has been strongly involved in women’s ceremonial practice and traditional law. Although now aged well into her 70’s, Lily is still keen on hunting bush food, and likes to go out regularly with family members to country around Lajamanu community.
Her language/tribe is Warlpiri and her country is Kurlurrngalinpa, starting from Granites in the north-west and through to Jila in the south-east. Her Dreamings are Mala, Ngatijirri, Witi, and Ngarrka (Watijarra). She started painting in 1986 in the Traditional Painting course. At a time when many Western Desert painters have gone to an excess of tidiness, Lily Hargraves’s approach remains intractably expressionist. She works like an action painter – quickly, with whatever materials are available, including house paint and poster paints – for the Dreaming, rather than the western art market.
When Judith Ryan (Curator of Aboriginal Art for the National Gallery of Victoria) came to Lajamanu, she bought a set of pastels the older women had done, which were hanging in the school library, for the Gallery. The shades are pastel, muted blues and pinks. They were getting very warped in the sun and the heat, and the surface was beginning to flake off. A meeting of the artists agreed to their removal on the basis that Judith Ryan would have them all photographed life-size and framed behind glass for the Lajamanu library. When the paintings were taken down from the walls where they’d been for a couple of years, (Lily) Nungarrayi started tearing hers up – “That one’s rubbish, I’m going to do you another one now.” All the other ladies were trying to grab it off her. She didn’t want what she regarded as her bad early work appearing in the National Gallery. She’s a little person with a fiery temperament. She’s called glurpunta, which means “fighting spirit”‘. (Christine Nicholls, headmistress at Lajamanu School for most of the ’80s, personal communication, see Paint Up Big, Judith Ryan (NGV, 1990). Lily has also worked at the Lajamanu school teaching dancing to the young girls.
1990 Paint Up Big: Warlpiri Women’s Art of Lajamanu, National Gallery of Victoria
1991 Aboriginal Art and Spirituality, High Court, Canberra
1991 Ngurra Mala, les lieux du Reve, Ecole des beaux-arts, Grenoble, France, 1991 Aboriginal Art, Australian Embassy, Washington, USA
1991 Yapa, Peintres Aborigenes de Balgo et Lajamanu, Baudoin Lebon Gallery, Paris
1993 10th NATSIAA Telstra Art Awards, Museum & Art Gallery of NT, Darwin
1994 Australian Aboriginal Art, Dettinger Mayer Gallery, Lyon and Toulouse, France
2000 Lajamanu Warlpiri Artists, Yuwayi Gallery, Sydney (Olympic Games exhibition)
2001 Tandanya Aboriginal Cultural Institute, Adelaide
2005 Across Skin- Women Artists of the Western Desert, Japingka Gallery, Fremantle.